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Destitution in Britain

by Jonathan Grant

Destitute asylum seekers across the UK face hardship and poverty not seen since Victorian times. After having had their case rejected, they are evicted from their homes, cut off from all state support and forbidden to seek work. This is a little-known but devastating situation facing hundreds of people each year in Glasgow.

The Home Office says that “failed asylum seekers without a barrier to leaving the UK are encouraged and assisted to make voluntary departures”. This is a dubious claim, as many are unable to do so. China and Iran, for example, refuse to allow asylum seekers back. For others it would be far too dangerous, such as those from Iraq, Afghanistan or Zimbabwe.

Some basic support, known as ‘Section 4’, is provided, but not for all, and it is not nearly enough. Recipients are allocated £5 per day in food vouchers or cards, which is in itself demeaning, and accommodation so basic that many share bedrooms with strangers. More critically, the state is not obliged to set up this support before eviction. This has led to children and pregnant women sleeping rough. Many have fallen into destitution while simply waiting for this support to be approved and delivered. This process normally takes 2-4 weeks but often far longer.

Many believe that this treatment is a deliberate policy on the part of the UK government- part of the ‘encouragement’ to make the choice to go back home. But the only choice they really have is to endure desperate poverty or return to extreme danger and violence.

Allowing destitution to continue violates both international law and basic human decency. It also undermines values of tolerance and compassion that are held so dear in Britain. A change is urgently needed for the most vulnerable people in our society. We cannot allow them to simply fall through the cracks any longer.

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